By Sen. Bob Hedlund and Rep. Lori Ehrlich
On Monday, the Joint Committee on Tourism, Arts and Cultural Development will hear Senate Bill 1870, An Act Relating to the Treatment of Elephants.
We can see your raised eyebrows and hear your snickers through the computer screen. “Is this really needed?” you’re likely asking. “Isn’t this going a bit overboard?”
Yes, and no, are our answers.
This bill is needed because we don’t feel poorly-trained animal handlers should be able to use pointed, metal-tipped clubs to beat and intimidate these beautiful, rare, and intelligent animals into submission, keep them chained up for 23 hours a day, and forced to perform tricks for our enjoyment.
And no, this bill isn’t going overboard, just like prohibiting someone from beating their dog isn’t going overboard. We’re not lobbying for animal rights – this isn’t about freeing animals from the zoo, or closing poultry farms — we’re talking about protecting animals from abusive treatment.
The opponents of this bill, led by Ringling Brothers Barnum and Bailey Circus, has deliberately circulated mistruths and falsehoods about the origins of this legislation, and the impact it would have in their attempts to kill it. We hope to clarify some of these points and encourage you to join with us in supporting this legislation.
1)This bill does not ban elephants, or circuses with elephants, from visiting Massachusetts.
It does, however, prohibit handlers from beating elephants with heavy, metal-tipped clubs called bullhooks, or ankuses.
It also says that handlers can’t use steel ankle shackles and chains to keep elephants chained up for 23 hours a day.
During the recent federal court case stemming from Ringling Bros. abusive treatment of elephants, it was revealed that virtually every single one of Ringling Bros. elephants has a medical condition directly related to being forced to wear ankle chains and remain standing upright on hard surfaces for hours on end.
Circus handlers say they need these weapons to keep elephants in line. However, these weapons are no longer used by most accredited zoos. The difference? Zoos don’t need to beat elephants into submission and scare them into performing “tricks” that they would otherwise never do in the wild.
2)This bill was not written by PETA and is not part of a radical animal-rights agenda
The first group to bring this issue to Sen. Hedlund’s attention were members of the South Shore Humane Society, whose president at the time was a union pipefitter, who ate meat, and owned guns.
We support this effort because we were horrified by the images and videos we have seen of handlers beating elephants, dragging them into the ring bleeding, or using a blowtorch to burn the hair off of elephants. (We have included a couple video links at the end of this post, as well as direct testimony from the Ringling Bros. trial)
This is not about animal rights; it’s about saying we don’t think elephants should be beaten and abused for our own amusement.
3)An elephant’s skin is not tough, and it can feel a whack from a bullhook
Although elephants can weigh more than 3 tons, it doesn’t mean they are impervious to pain. Their skin isn’t a tough hide like that of a rhinoceros. It’s actually quite sensitive and thin in some places. Elephants can feel a bug bite just like we can.
During the Ringling Bros. trial, a memo between circus employees was entered into evidence that discussed how one elephant had “[dripped] blood all over the arena floor during the show from being hooked” by a bullhook.
Even if elephants did have tough skin, it wouldn’t do much to protect them when handlers are sticking and jabbing metal clubs into their ear canals and anuses.
4)This bill will not mean you can’t bring your children to a circus in Massachusetts.
We all remember going to the circus as a kid. You will still be able to if this bill passes. Ringling Bros. says they won’t to able to bring their show to Boston if this legislation passes. However, that is a business decision of their own choosing.
Some of the world’s most successful circuses such as Mummunschanz and Cirque Du Soleil are animal-free circuses. They draw huge crowds and perform to sold-out audiences.
Currently, there are several countries including Sweden, India, Singapore, and Austria that have completely banned ALL animals in entertainment. What we are proposing does not go that far. What it would do is make Massachusetts a leader in offering protections for elephants featured in entertainment here in the United States.
Again, we need to consider whether we want to teach our kids that it’s OK to beat and abuse an animal, so long as it’s done in the name of family entertainment.
We would like to encourage all readers of Blue Mass. Group to contact your legislator as well as committee chairpersons Sen. Sonia Chang Diaz and Rep. John Keenan and encourage them to support Senate Bill 1870.
A report from CBS News on elephant abuse: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v…
A colection of news reports on elephant abuse:
How the Bullhook is Used at Circuses: Direct Quotes from Federal Lawsuit against Ringling for Mistreatment
Kenneth Feld, CEO of Feld Entertainment, parent company that owns Ringling Brothers, March 3, 2009 pm
Q. And you have seen Ringling Brothers’ employees strike elephants with bullhooks, haven’t you?
A. Strike, hit, touch, tap, yes. Whatever the terminology is you’d like to use, yes.
Q. And you’ve seen them, Ringling Brothers’ employees, use the hooked end of the bullhook to prod elephants behind the ears, haven’t you?
A. I’ve seen them use both sides of the bullhook behind the ear of the elephant, yes.
Q. And you have also seen Ringling Brothers’ employees strike elephants under the chin with a bullhook, haven’t you?
Testimony of Gary Jacobson, general manager for Ringling Bros. Center for Elephant Conservation, March 9, 2009
Q. And isn’t it true that as part of the training process the baby elephants are hit with bullhooks?
A. Not as part of a training process, no.
Q. Okay. Well, you call it correction, right?
Q. Part of the correction process, the baby elephants are hit with bullhooks, right?
Q. All right. And that’s to correct their behavior, right?
Q. All right. And when you say “correct,” you mean getting the elephant to comply with your wishes; is that right?